30 July 2020 marked 1000 days since the arrest of Jagtar Singh Johal, a British national, accused of being involved in a spate of targeted killings in Punjab in 2016 and 2017. Jagtar was a resident of Dumbarton, a town in Scotland.
Three years ago, in November 2017, Jagtar’s brother in Scotland received a call from his wife, Gurpreet Kaur, telling him that her husband had been forcibly taken away. A month earlier, in October, Jagtar and his family had arrived in Punjab for his wedding. While the family returned to Scotland after the wedding, Jagtar and Kaur stayed on in India.
On 4 November 2017, while the couple were out shopping in the Rama Mandi town in Punjab’s Jalandhar district, the police appeared and arrested Jagtar. Kaur told me that a group of men suddenly descended on the scene, forcibly pulled Jagtar out of the car, and took him away. “I couldn’t make sense of anything,” she said. “I cried and cried.”
Kaur recalled the events that followed. “The night of 4 November was hellish,” she said. “We were running from pillar to post to find out where he was. We went to the city police station and then to the Cantt police station and then called here and there.” She added, “After sometime we received a call asking us to come to Bagha Purana,”— a city in Punjab’s Moga district—“where he was to be produced in court on the morning of 5 November. We went there and waited with the officials from the British High Commission. Without notifying us, they took him to court and away. All we were told was a five-day police remand had been given.”
Between January 2016 and October 2017, Punjab witnessed high-profile murders of atleast seven religious and political activists, including leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Shiv Sena. On 7 November, three days after Jagtar’s arrest, the Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh and Suresh Arora, the then director general of police, held a press conference claiming that the several of the targeted killing cases in the state had been solved. As reported in The Tribune, Amarinder said that a major conspiracy to fan communal disturbances and destabilise the state, hatched by the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI in Pakistan and other countries, had been unearthed. He named Jagtar among four suspects who had been arrested in connection with the killings.